Investing in space is one of those things that India got right in incubating technologies that can help us leapfrog to solving complex social problems. Fast forward 60 years from the birth of the space activities, we have established technologies to put systems together and launch satellites and deliver services. Despite all the capability, we in India captures less than 0.1% of the global space market today.
For the lack of a vision, I present my own on how do we go from where are today to possibly creating a $10 billion pie that supports 100,000 high-skilled jobs directly and indirectly by 2030?
Core technology investments
Unlock to create spin-off, spin-ins and all kinds of uses in other sectors.
There is a lot of pride we take in indigenous when each satellite and rocket is flown. The question is what is ‘indigenous’? Yes, the assembly, integration, tests and the flight of each rocket and satellite happens on our soil. This is indigenous capabilities at ‘system level’. To put it technically, we are maturing something that is Technology readiness levels (TRL) 6-7 to 9.
For example, every solar cell that is flown on an Indian satellite today is bought from a foreign vendor but put together as a panel in India. Similarly, there are a number of power components, sensors and suite of hardware that have no Indian source. We kid ourselves if we have to believe in the word ‘indigenous’ without each one of these critical sub-systems has an Indian source.
This is not a place for the private sector to invest since it involves maturing science into technology. Apart from Today with the new developments in nanotechnology, materials, etc., we have an opportunity to leapfrog older generations of technologies we have been dependent on at the subsystem level.
This may not be the responsibility directly within the space program but that is not the case in India. Semi-Conductor Laboratory (SCL) is a research institute of the Department of Space in India and maybe DoS should also take up core research in other areas that create capacity in developing from TRL 1 through to 9. When people talk about how investing into the space program in the US led to a lot of commercial spin-offs today in returns, this is what they talk about. Space helps you perfect the reliability, ruggedness, performance and sorts, which you can then use it in a number of industries.
Create a Space Start-up Culture
Unlock this to create non-Bangalore centric growth, export competitiveness, etc.
Wonder how many space start-ups are in India against that of the globe? We have half a dozen of them when across the world there are over 2000 as of today. Even Australia that only started blinking about building space as a local industry recently has 60 startups in a matter of 3 years.
Where are India’s space startups? People will point to half a dozen space startups in India such as Team Indus, Astrome, Bellatrix, SatSure, but what most people forget is that all of them can only afford of relationship of a possible customer in ISRO from a business perspective or an elephant in the room relationship of a policy influencing body (if not policy making!).
When the whole country is going gaga over #StartUpIndia, space start-ups have failed to attract a single institutional capital source to help them scale as of today. Any thoughts on how we’d build such as a culture in a complex and a large timeline natured market like space? How about creating a new engagement perspective of a ‘guru’ who can guide (advice) and support (resources) entrepreneurs with space dreams?
We see today that all these start-ups are camping in Bangalore and unrecognizable activity across all other metros when it comes to starting up in space? Given that we have experts doing transponder design in Gujarat, propulsion design in Kerala, exploiting data products in Telengana, there is tremendous potential for start-ups to leverage their expertise.
The European Space Agency just recently incubated its 500th startup and has 20 incubation locations spread across Europe. How about we take a leaf from their book in creating. a de-centralised and expertise-based distributed incubation program to help #startup in space?
No Tata, Birla and such in Space
Unlock level to help our jawans with swadeshi-solutions, connecting each village in India, etc.
Ever wonder why the mighty Tatas, Birlas or Mahindra and such who run multi-billion-dollar establishments not invest in space? Tatas for example literally operate in every other allied sector including aviation, defence, IT, etc. The only two big known corporates working with the space program today are Godrej and L&T. Their apathy in investing more in space shows as one of Godrej’s executive said recently on ISRO’s PSLV being manufactured by the industry as ‘We’ve waited for 20 years, but now we are close’.
At the same time, the foreign corporations such as Israel Aerospace Industries are reporting that out of $11 billion order backlog with the Indian government and military has become its largest overseas customer, accounting for over 50% of the company’s exports. If a single corporation like Reliance can invest $15 billion as a single investment in Jio, given the right conditions of competition between the big business houses and groups in the country, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot build swadeshi competence for defence space as the government is finalising the space command. Same goes for the grand vision of connecting 250,000-gram panchayats and Digital India and sorts, where satellites so far have been failed to be used in any significant way so far.